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What if I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour but have then backslidden? What do I do?
Thank you for your question, it's obviously very heartfelt and one that a lot of people struggle with. It's an issue which can get quite complicated because there are potentially all sorts of different combinations of factors behind it, and a lot of people will make it seem quite confusing, but actually the answer is incredibly simple: pray to God and ask him to forgive you and change you!
Just as 1 John 1:9 says, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And John was writing to people in a church, who professed to be Christians!
The reason I say it can be complicated is that backsliding should be so unnatural to a Christian that some people would insist if you have backslidden then that is evidence that you weren't a Christian to begin with. There is some truth to that, and if that's case then you need to repent and ask God to forgive you and transform you through Jesus.
However, I wouldn't want to assume thais at all: it's just as possible and likely that you are a Christian and somehow you have fallen back into sin. If that's the case the answer is exactly the same, repent and ask God to forgive you and restore you through Jesus.
The only real difference is whether God, when he answers your prayer does a new work and transforms you, or refreshes the old work and restores you. The two may look identical from your point of view!
Pray to God the Father, who loves you so deeply that he gave up his Son so that you could be forgiven and restored (John 3:16). Jesus, because he loves you so much, will cleanse you from all your sin (1 John 1:9). Jesus' Spirit will work in you to live in you and transform you (1 Peter 1:2).
The next step after that is to find and get involved in a good local church. In fact, if you're still struggling with any of this, the local church is the place to find help.
The relationship of faith and obedience is the big reason why some Christians might assume you are not truly a believer. Salvation is all of God, and even the faith we cry out for forgiveness with is a gift of God. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). True faith will prove itself by obedience; that's what the illustrations of trees bearing fruit in places like Matthew 7:15-20 and James 3:11-12 are about, and what James is saying in James 2:14-26 when he talks about faith without works being dead. So it is possible that backsliding may well be a sign that a person's faith was never genuine.
However, that's far too simple an answer, it cannot always be that black and white because much of the letters to churches are taken up with people being told to resist sin, stop sinning, or discipline believers who are sinning that they might be restored. For fleeing sin verses I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Corinthians 10:14 and 2 Timothy 2:22. For examples of believers under discipline see 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, Philippians 4:2, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15.
The best verses I know on this are in James 5:19, "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."
You may never have been meant to wander and backslide, but now that you have done, God's desire for you is that you should be restored, and any sins, even a multitude of them, will be covered over!
You might have come across the idea of believers falling away and being lost, from passages like Hebrews 6:4-8. There are also verses on eternal security such as They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:18) to show that falling away is only an indication that a person was never truly saved.
This is where people can get themselves tied up in knots. Does this mean I am saved but could fall away? Does it mean I was never really saved? Does it mean I can't be restored?
All I can say to this is that the fact you are asking this question is a sure sign of God working in you. A person who falls away is someone who rejects everything about the Christian life, they simply wouldn't be worried or concerned that they'd fallen away, they'd be sure it was the right thing to do! Don't worry about all the what-ifs and who-knows as maybe one day you'll figure out exactly what was going on. For now all that matters is that you repent and are saved, and whatever you were or weren't before you repented won't matter!
The last thing to bring up is the idea of eternal security. This can add into those other ideas to confuse even more, making you wonder if somehow you're an exception to them or if they prove further that you were never truly a Christian. I want to use them the other way round to encourage you. You say you accepted Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, so these things are true of you. They should fill you with hope and confidence as you call on him to restore you!
"I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:28-29). Jesus will never, ever let you go! And even if he could, the Father has you safe and secure too, and you won't ever fall out of his loving grip.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39) Nothing can separate you from the love God has set on you in Jesus, nothing in all of creation, and that includes you!
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:6) God doesn't do half-done Christians, he doesn't start a work by saving you and then let you go. God began the work, who knows where it's gone since then, backwards even, but that won't stop God; He will finish it. He will restore you. He will work in you after that. He will complete the work, because that's what he is like, regardless of us.
If we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13) Your salvation depends on God. Have you been faithless toward him? Come back to him and you will find that he is still faithful to you. It depends not on you or your character, but on him. You can be confident in him.
In summary, even though we may confuse ourselves when we look at this issue, I hope you will have great comfort from verses like 1 John 1:9! The natural next step is for you to find a church to attend. God saves us individually, but he saves us into his family. Your life as a Christian is meant to be in partnership with other believers, them supporting you and you supporting them. It's the surest way to safeguard yourself from backsliding again, and the church family is the best remedy if you ever do.
I hope this answer helps you to find peace with God through Jesus Christ. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site: Watch the video
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*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise
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